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Hanover allows Alliance Defending Freedom to review school's equal educational opportunities policy

Posted at 4:14 PM, Mar 10, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-10 17:48:01-05

HANOVER COUNTY, Va. -- There are mixed emotions from Hanover County students and parents after the Hanover School Board voted 4-3 to allow the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a pro-religious liberties group, to offer a free legal review of the school district’s policy regarding equal educational opportunities. That policy is at the center of a lawsuit against the Hanover School Board regarding a lack of protection for transgender students.

“Seeing them do little to no discussion on the topic, and then vote to pass it," Patrick Henry High School senior Ethan Lynne said. "I was just filled with rage.”

Lynne, who made headlines last month over tweets Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s campaign sent about him, said he disagreed with Hanover Schools getting involved with the ADF.

Kimberly Thurston, who has three children in Hanover schools, supports the idea.

“They do amazing work defending our First Amendment rights," she said. "I was pleased to see them brought in at no cost to taxpayers."

The lawsuit, filed by the Virginia Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), claims the Hanover School Board violated state law and the Virginia Department of Education’s model policies when it failed to adopt new rules that would allow transgender students to use bathrooms and locker rooms that align with their gender identity.

“As of right now, students in Hanover County are really left to the kind of whim of their administrators of their school, or potentially even their teachers or guidance counselors about which restrooms to use," ACLU of Virginia Director Eden Heilman said.

Heilman said the lawsuit is currently pending, and the ACLU is awaiting movement from the Hanover County Circuit Court unless either party takes action to expedite the timeline of the case.

She explained that denying students the ability to use facilities in accordance to their identity damages their social transition.

"It has dramatic impacts in terms of mental health and even educational progress," Heilman said. "They've shown that students suffer academically more when they they don't feel supported in school in these in these areas."

Some people consider the involvement of the Alliance Defending Freedom in the process controversial because while the organization said it protects religious freedom, free speech, marriage and family, parental rights, and the sanctity of life, the Southern Poverty Law Center has labeled the ADF an anti-LGBTQ+ hate group.

On its website, the Southern Poverty Law Center listed several ways ADF has promoted anti-LGBTQ+ including ADF supported the idea that being LGBTQ+ should be considered a crime in the United States and abroad.

“I think that defining them as a hate group is a little extreme," Thurston said.“We're Christians, we go to church. We hate the sin and love the sinner, and I think that that's what the Alliance Defending Freedom does.”

Lynne believes his transgender peers will get hurt in the long run.

“I think it is mainly an attack on their existence," he said. "I don't know what is the problem with someone feeling that they were born in the wrong body?”

When asked about the Tuesday night vote, Hanover County School Board Chair Ola Hawkins provided the following statement:

The School Board voted last night to engage Alliance Defending Freedom for legal review of Policy 7-1.2 at no cost to HCPS. On behalf of the School Board, I do not have anything further to add to this other than what was discussed and decided upon at last night’s meeting.

When asked about its involvement with Hanover Schools, the ADF provided the following statement:

Thank you for reaching out to Alliance Defending Freedom regarding the Hanover school board. ADF is offering legal advice and at this time, we cannot comment.

This is a developing story, so anyone with more information can email newstips@wtvr.com to send a tip.

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